The Truth About Policing in Schools

This week alone, I have seen three news stories cast yet another shadow over the policing profession.  All three segments suggest there are systemic issues with regards to police in schools, and subsequent negative interactions with youth. As someone who is devoting her life to community and school-based policing, I couldn’t help but offer my thoughts here.

Self-admittedly, I initially wanted shout from the rooftops (or write in ALL CAPS) to guard the integrity of my profession, and support my brother and sister Officers who work so very hard to protect and serve. However, I’ve learned shouting does one thing: it impresses one’s ideas on another in a way that is filled with personal bias and misunderstanding.

I’ve learned it’s easy to remain in the darkness, choosing to shout, blame, and defend. If the police are the public and the public are the police, why don’t we approach the thoughts, opinions and actions of others from a place of curiosity, instead of judgement? In this place, we can step out of the shadows of fear and uncertainty, and into the light of greater understanding.

In 2015, President Obama appointed a task force to strengthen community policing and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The President asked the task force to “identify best policing practices and offer recommendations on how those practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust.” One of the recommendations in the final report is as follows:

4.7.1. Action Item – Communities and law enforcement agencies should restore and build trust between youth and police by creating programs and projects for positive, consistent, and persistent interaction between youth and police.

School Resource Officers (SRO) have become a staple in American schools. While one function of the SRO is to ensure safety, the majority of the SRO’s time is spent acting in the capacity of role-model, mentor, friend, counselor and educator for students.  This positive, persistent interaction is building relationships that build bridges between youth and police.

Still, there are areas for improvement and we’re listening. School Districts and Police Departments are working together to further define the role of the SRO. While Officers are generally skilled in the balance of law enforcement and community caretaking, SRO’s should receive additional training for working closely with youth. Currently, many SRO’s are being educated in adolescent brain development, trauma-sensitive approaches, and alternatives to lock-up.

I’ve made it my life’s work to understand this very special role. In my daily life as an SRO, I talk to children and parents, listening with mindful compassion. I take courses and attend seminars on education, brain science, child development, mindfulness, parenting, psychology, teaching and more.  I network with professionals inside and outside of my chosen field on a regular basis, as I believe excellence in an SRO position is through collaboration. I educate other SRO’s through the L.E.A.P. Program Training to share best practices.

While I do a great deal of educating these days, I choose to remain “in the trenches.” I stay in this role because my work with children helps me to protect and serve our most valuable and vulnerable population. I work directly with children on a daily basis who are all beautifully different. There are days I am inspired by my kids, and days where I feel challenged. Still, I wake up each day hopeful, dedicating my time to a role that is deeply meaningful to me, my community, and the children that I serve.

I choose to be the light; the hope within the darkness.